Published On: Sun, Nov 12th, 2017

‘Hairspray’ at Music Mountain Theatre in Lambertville is Must-See Family Fun

By John Dwyer

Some musicals should be seen on a regular basis — they are good for the soul.

As opposed to a standard boy meets girl libretto, there are a handful of musical productions that actually inspire you and energize you to make the world a better place and to make yourself a better person. “Hairspray” is one of those musicals.

I was excited to see the production on the list of shows that “The Music Mountain Theatre” was undertaking. It’s one that the world needs to see again — right now. With so much divisiveness out there and so much of it racial, “Hairspray” is a needed antidote. It not only promotes diversity but also is a call to action in the face of snarky bigotry to stand up and be counted and fight for equality and respect for all.

“Hairspray” is about Tracy Turnblad, an overweight 1950s teen who dreams of being on the Baltimore version of American Bandstand called “The Corny Collins Show.” Though plucky and with all the right moves, she gets body shamed for her weight at auditions when the show has an open call for a replacement for a regular dancer. With her sidekick friend Penny Pingleton, we accompany her on a journey to fight prejudice through spunk and good all-American dancing. The story line is specifically about integrating the show, so as Tracy eloquently puts it, “Everyday can be Negro day.” But the themes of diversity and dismissing stereotypes are not just about race. There are moments where the story touches on judgments being passed on appearance, economics, gender roles and sexual orientation.

The original “Hairspray“ was a movie directed by the infamous John Waters which included the underground art movie legend Divine. Divine was an obese female impersonator most famously known for the movies “Pink Flamingoes” and “Female Trouble.” Divine played Tracy’s beleaguered mother Edna Turnblad. The role is traditionally played in drag and adds to the overall theme of accepting diversity because of that casting choice.

The music is by Marc Shaiman, with lyrics by he and Scott Wittman. The songs burst with vitality and make you want to jump out of your seat, with hits such as “Mama, I’m a Big Girl Now” and “You Can’t Stop the Beat.” The songwriters also were responsible for the music in the Broadway-based television series “Smash,” the stage musical “Catch Me If You Can,” and multiple films.

The show won eight Tony Awards and nine Drama Desk Awards, including Best Musical, Best Score and Best Book. This production has Lucinda Fisher in the pivotal role of Tracy Turnblad, and she owns the role. She is an amazing singer, with the nonstop energy that defies both logic and, in the show’s case, bigotry. Another amazing performance is given by Taylor Stokes, who plays the matriarch Motormouth Maybelle. When she sings with dignity and ferocity the gospel-based “I Know Where I’ve Been,” she is bringing you to church, and you want to yell out “Amen.” It is a standout moment in this production.

Michael Moeller as Edna Turnblad and David Whiteman as Wilbur Turnblad are the perfect loving parents of Tracy and are delightful in their duet “You’re Timeless to Me.” Handsome Matthew Robertson plays Tracy’s boyfriend and teen idol Link with matinee idol charm. Colby Langweiler is pitch perfect as Tracy’s partner in crime and antsy best friend Penny Pingleton. James Legette, as Motormouth Mabel’s son Seaweed, wows the audience with his dancing style. His baby sister, Little Inez, is played by the adorable, talented, scene-stealing Suyri Williams.

The villains of the piece are Velma and Amber Von Tussle played deliciously by Anna Hentz and Jill Palena. And finally the host of the “Corny Collins Show” is Louis Palena. He gives Corny a “Kookie (Ed Byrnes)”  a la “Sunset Strip” vibe which is spot on.

There are 44 actors and actresses on stage. Some have been performing for decades, and there may be some for whom who it is their first show. Professional singers trying to be better dancers. Actors trying to be better singers. This is what is happening nightly on the stage. The mission of Music Mountain is to “enrich, educate and entertain our community through the study, performance and appreciation of the arts.” It is accomplishing that.

“Hairspray” is not just a great show to see because of music and script, and this production is not just a good production due to some solid performances, fun costuming and inventive sets and staging. This is a great show because it allows locals to hone their craft, which includes empathy — something sorely lacking these days. In a world of divisiveness, both the show, production and Music Mountain Theater provide an example that with enough positive energy, the world can be a better place.

“Hairspray” runs through Nov. 19. Grab a ticket online and see this exceptional family show as soon as you can.

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